Nurturing faith and fellowship in Aroostook County

Drive by the Christian Life Center (CLC) on a Wednesday morning, and you will see a parking lot full of vehicles. Head inside to the community room, and you will see why. The room is full of women and men seeking to learn more about their Catholic faith.

“Growing up, we really never had Bible study, and when the opportunity came, I thought, ‘Now, is my time.’ I was raised Catholic, and the more I know, the more I want to know. This class has been wonderful,” says Linda Cyr of Madawaska.

“I went to a Cursillo in 1978, a long time ago, and I thought it was time to revive it. All along, I’ve been going to church, but there is a gap. You forget things,” says Barbara Deschaine of Sinclair. “We used to go to church once or twice a week, and that was it, but a half hour or hour of church once a week is not enough.”

Led by Father Antony Alexander Maria Doss, HGN, director of the CLC, the Bible study sessions have attracted people from across the St. John River Valley. When the group started about a year ago, it had about a dozen members, but attendance has steadily grown since that time. Now, nearly 40 people attend each week.

“I can’t tell you what a blessing this is to me. My faith is the most important thing in my life,” says Karen Ouellette of Fort Kent, who joined the group in November 2023. “I just love it.”

“It’s been really wonderful,” says Susan Daigle of Fort Kent, who started attending in March 2024 after Ouellette recommended the group to her. “It kind of opens up the Scripture for you.”

The Bible study sessions are taking participants on a journey through salvation history beginning with the Old Testament. The group members have learned about Biblical figures and prophets, such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Zephaniah, as well as about the times in which they lived. The participants have discussed what the prophets sought to communicate then and what their messages continue to say to us today.

“We are not just talking about the Bible but the Bible’s application to life today. Everybody is able to connect with that,” Father Maria Doss says. “We are not just studying a historical book. That’s why people long to come back. Sometimes, after one or two classes, they get bored. They don’t understand, or they give up, but we have not lost a member in over a year.”

The participants say what they have learned in the Bible study group has helped them better understand their faith and get more out of attending Mass.

“We’re much more knowledgeable in the New Testament because that is what the Church had a focal point on teaching us, but really, you have to learn from the Old Testament to understand the New Testament and vice versa,” says Linda Daigle of Madawaska.

“Before, you used to go to church, and you heard two readings and two different stories, but they didn’t really have a connection. But now, I can see the connections that the Bible is making,” says Deschaine. “It’s prompted me to do other things on my own, too.”

“It helps me connect to the daily readings. When I read my booklet, it’s oh yes, I read Hosea today. Tomorrow, it’s going to be someone else. It brings me back to the study that we did in the Bible group,” says Linda Bechard of St. David. “It’s the same thing when we go to church on Sunday. We can actually associate and see that, ‘Oh yeah, this is who we learned about, and this is really what’s going on.’ It’s a blessing.”

“When I’m at Mass and hear from this prophet or that prophet, now I know where it’s coming from,” says Ouellette. “It’s the best thing I’ve ever done. I can’t wait for the New Testament.”

Members of the Bible study group credit Father Maria Doss for bringing the studies to life.

“He is amazing. He has so much knowledge, and he has such a humble spirit. He is just a really, really good person,” says Susan Daigle.

“He is awesome. He is very intelligent,” says Ouellette. “He is a great communicator.”

“I pray that God will help him in his mission because he goes the extra mile. He is very sweet, and you learn a lot from him,” says Joyce Palmer-Joghee of Fort Kent, who recently joined the group after she and her husband moved to the area.

Father Maria Doss keeps the sessions informal, inviting questions and discussion. As a result, there is active participation from people in all corners of the room. No one seems hesitant to jump in and read a passage from Scripture or comment on one.

“Everybody is comfortable with each other. I’m the only one from my community; however, I feel like I’m part of this whole group,” says Lucille Castonguay of Van Buren. “It’s been said that if you attend the Bible class, even if you don’t get anything out of the teachings, you will make new friends. I’ve done both. I’ve gotten a lot of knowledge about the Bible, and I’ve made new friends.”

“It’s very friendly, very loving, and people are always willing to help each other,” says Bechard.

To help build community, there is a break for coffee and pastry midway through the two-hour Bible study sessions. Then, when they’re concluded, everyone joins in the celebration of Mass in the CLC’s chapel, followed by lunch in the dining room. On this day, they enjoy sandwiches, homemade vegetable soup, and lots of conversation.

While the Bible study group primarily meets at the CLC, Father Maria Doss has also led the group on field trips. For instance, during Holy Week, they traveled to 14 Aroostook County churches to pray the 14 Stations of the Cross and then attended the Mass of the Holy Oils at Holy Rosary Church in Caribou.

Earlier, the group traveled to St. Louis Church in Fort Kent, where Father Jean-Paul Labrie, pastor of St. John Vianney Parish, explained the significance of the church’s stained-glass windows.

“Father Labrie explained everything on each window and what they mean, from the little flowers, like a rose that meant the Rosary, to the Ave Maria, the Hail Mary, on the same window. It was so interesting,” says Jeannine Daigle of Sinclair.

The group also traveled to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, in Edmundston, New Brunswick.

“When we were talking about the Temple, we went to the cathedral church next door in Canada to help people understand why that church is as important for the community as the Temple is important for the Jewish community,” Father Maria Doss explains.

The Wednesday Bible study group is just one of many programs offered by the CLC, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2023. For years, the CLC thrived, enhancing the faith lives of many throughout northern Aroostook County and beyond, but when the center was forced to close during the COVID-19 pandemic and with the building in need of costly repairs, it was feared it would not reopen. Instead, in 2022, Bishop Robert Deeley assigned Father Maria Doss to be the new director, and the center was reborn.

Although he also serves as parochial vicar of St. John Vianney Parish, Father Maria Doss says being able to dedicate most of his time to the CLC has made a tremendous difference.

“We are very grateful to the bishop. That changed a lot,” he says. “I am grateful to Father Labrie also. He lets me go. I can stay here all day and plan the programs. That’s why we have become full-fledged over the past year.”

Father Maria Doss says his goal is to have continuous programming. The center has hosted men’s and women’s retreats, a marriage preparation program, a Valentine’s Day Dinner for married couples, and a Lenten program on “The Imitation of Christ.” A new prayer shawl ministry has been started there, along with a bereavement group. And Father Maria Doss says his next priority is to reach out to children, which already includes hosting French classes and an altar servers’ program.

“We have an altar servers retreat and painting programs for the children. We are trying to reach them in every way possible, but we need to have a solid program for them,” he says.

People in Aroostook County say they are thankful to see the center bustling with activity.

“I’m just glad to see it thriving again. COVID hit us hard, and Father has breathed new life into the CLC,” says Ouellette. “It’s wonderful.”
“When they reopened it, you could hear people say, ‘Finally, it’s alive again,’” says Jeannine Daigle. “They were afraid it would be done, but now, they see it’s alive, and they’re happy.”

“The County, I would say they are people of faith, and you need more than what your parish can give you,” says Bernard Michaud, who worked as a handyman at the center for more than a decade and now volunteers there. “We want to bring people to the Lord.”

“We have something special with the CLC,” says Palmer-Joghee.“When you come here, you have a warm welcome. Everybody embraces you. This is what Christianity is all about.”


Woman participant
Father Antony Alexander Maria Doss, HGN
A man and a woman read from Scripture.
A male participant.
Joyce Palmer-Jonghee
Father Antony Alexander Maria Doss, HGN